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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Canvas

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye at Tate Britain, London

In my mind, a portrait is the depiction of an actual person, someone who has lived. Their portrait was made so their story could be told and so we would know about them, learn about their life. But what happens if the painting, like in the case of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's work, is of a fictional person, someone who only exists in the artist's imagination? Well, I guess perhaps that's the representation of humanity at large. It is none of us and all of us.

What I realised while looking at Yiadom-Boakye's stunning canvasses is not only that the absence of an identifiable sitter didn't matter, but that my experience as a viewer was being redefined. I was no longer being guided to look for clues and meaning, I was letting myself be drawn into a story of infinite possibilities.

Yiadom-Boakye is an astonishingly accomplished painter. Her strokes are thick and assured, loose yet deliberate in how much expression they manage to convey. Her use of colour is masterful, those dark backgrounds reminded me of Titian (but of course), and I couldn't help but see a touch of Alice Neel in the disarming honesty oozed by these personages. Yiadom-Boakye's world is one of intimate, knowing gazes and enigmatic silences. I was most enthralled by the paintings where the figures look away. In Lynette words: "I think they don't always want to give you everything."

At Tate Britain until February 26th. Do not miss this.

© Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

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